EDITORIAL: Decision time on ‘assault weapons’

‘Fatally flawed’ legislation moves through the Senate

Several days before the November elections, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to meet with her lawyers to prepare for the renewal of the Clinton-era gun ban, early in President Obama’s second term.

On Thursday, she emphasized the extensive planning that went into reviving her “assault weapons” ban. “The calls have been coming in as if this is some wild-eyed scheme,” Mrs. Feinstein told her colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It is not.”

The intention of her legislation, the California Democrat said, “is to dry up the supply” of the 4 million semi-automatic rifles she describes as having a frightful appearance. She further pushed for enactment of a ban of ordinary rifle and pistol magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

More thoughtful committee members tried to steer the discussion away from emotion and toward the facts. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and the ranking member, noted that the Justice Department has yet to offer an opinion on the constitutionality of the bill. In light of the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision strengthening the Second Amendment, he declared the bill was “fatally flawed.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, argued that the “assault weapon” ban in effect between 1994 and 2004 made nobody safer. “We tried this experiment once, and it failed, and I think it promotes symbolism over seriousness to repeat that mistake,” he said. The real issue is “stopping deranged madmen from getting guns.”

To address that problem, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, offers legislation with Democratic support to clarify under what circumstances mental illness is a disqualification to own a gun. It would make clear that the FBI’s instant background-check system must report cases where a judicial authority deems someone mentally ill, including those found not guilty in a criminal case by reason of insanity. It must include those determined to be an imminent danger to themselves or others, ruled incompetent to stand trial and forced to undergo involuntary treatment by a psychiatric hospital.

The Judiciary Committee put off the final vote on the “assault weapon” ban and three other pending gun bills until Tuesday, but all are expected to pass. Republicans on the committee are working on amendments to add a bit of common sense to the discussion. Mr. Cornyn wants to expand the exemption in Mrs. Feinstein’s bill for current and former law enforcement to cover the military and veterans. It’s important that Mrs. Feinstein’s bill as written never becomes the law of the land.

The Washington Times

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